Monday, 8 November 2010

A Book of Secrets. . .

Another book to add to the must-read pile. Michael Holroyd is a favourite author of mine - I've read several of his books, including his biographies of Lytton Strachey and Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. His books of memoir have also proved fascinating. This review in The Telegraph has peaked my interest in his latest book - especially as it continues the story of Violet Trefusis, in her post-Vita years.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Just Acquired. . .

Oh, I am a sucker for my Folio books. Two lovely new volumes came in the post this week. I love this image on Kafka's Metamorphosis. Guilty confession - I have never read any Kafka before, but I certainly will now. And this edition of Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front is illustrated with archival photographs of German soldiers during the war.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Art and Literature in the Inter-War Years. . .

This review in the Guardian has really made me want to read Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artist and the Imagination From Virginia Woolf to John Piper by Alexandra Harris.

From the review, written by Kathryn Hughes:

They loved country churches, tea in china cups wreathed with roses, old manor houses, abandoned fishing smacks, Gypsy caravans and, just as important, the soft English rain that smudged the outlines of all these precious things. Above all, their sensibility was local. While the other modernism saw national boundaries as just one more example of pernicious Ruritanian debris, romantic moderns celebrated the way England's crinkled coast enclosed the rooted and particular. Trees, stones, bodies, walls: these were no longer the flotsam that needed to be excluded from art. They were what art was all about.

I love this inter-war period of art and literature in all of its many beautiful and varied forms. I'll definitely be getting my hands on a copy of this.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Off to TIFF. . .

The Toronto Film Festival starts tomorrow and I'm enormously excited and prepared to exist on very little sleep for the next ten days. I have tickets to 20 films, with a four day, two time zone business trip sandwiched in the middle of it - I'm literally leaving one film to go straight to the airport. However, I love the rushing around and this year I really lucked out and got almost all of my top choices. I'll be avoiding most of the big Hollywood films that will show up later in theatres, but I had to make an exception for Colin Firth's new movie, The King's Speech. He plays George VI, forced to become king after his brother's abdication and terrified of public speaking because of his stammer. Geoffrey Rush plays his speech therapist and Helena Bonham Carter plays the Queen Mum. It's already getting some early Oscar buzz.

I'm a HUGE fan of Kristin Scott Thomas and so I'm tickled to be going to both of her new French films, Sarah's Key and Love Crime. And I'll be seeing Guillaume Canet's new film Little White Lies as well. Oooh, and Godard's Film Socialisme and Michael Winterbottom's The Trip, and Christopher Plummer's new movie Beginners and Rio Sex Comedy which stars the fabulous Charlottte Rampling, and other really intriguing films from India, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Germany and Turkey.
I'll try and post the odd review if I have time, or I'll wrap it all up at the end and list my favourites.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Stocking up on Fall "Textbooks". . .

Okay, so I'm not going back to school, but I do always get that nostalgic ache in September for a pile of shiny new books. A trip to my favourite independent bookstores was a must this weekend. Here's what caught my eye:

I've been reading a lot in the media and on blogs about the re-issue of two novels exploring Nazi Germany by Hans Keilson - Death of the Adversary , translated by Ivo Jarosy, and Comedy In a Minor Key, translated by Damion Searls. Love the covers and I have been fascinated by this literary period since reading Hans Fallada and Irmgard Keun. I bought them both.

In my fantasy shop, there would definitely be a section devoted to bookstores, both real and imaginary. So A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé, translated by Alison Anderson. was a no-brainer. This sounds like a wonderful read about a Paris bookstore that only offers literary masterpieces as chosen by a top-secret committee, who subsequently are mysteriously targeted and threatened. This is published by the wonderful Europa Editions, one of a handful of presses whose publishing choices I trust implicitly. So I also picked up The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leïla Marouane. It doesn't take much for me to pick up a book with Paris in the title, but this story of an Algerian man looking for an apartment and sexual encounters, narrated by an unsympathetic female, really intrigued me.

Two American writers I've been wanting to read for a while now have books on the pile. Many people have recommended the short stories of Lydia Davis to me and I definitely will get around to buying her collection soon. But in the meantime, I was drawn to her novel The End of the Story, about a woman trying to write a novel about a love affair. I'm normally quite skeptical about the review blurbs that get plastered onto the first pages of paperbacks, but this one from the Village Voice sold me: "The palettte of Davis's novel reminded me of green tea, bone, quartz light, and dried apricots, and its French room tone buzzes with the obsessiveness of Michel Leiris, the saltwater air of Jane Bowles and the grouchy who-cares-a-damn silence of Jean Rhys."

I also bought Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women, a novel tracing the twentieth century through five generations, starting with a suffragette who starves herself in 1914.

I can never resist a beautifully designed book, and Prose, a collection of short stories by Thomas Bernhard, translated by Martin Chambers, is a really gorgeous, inexpensive hardcover with lovely textured red endpapers. Bernhard is a writer I keep meaning to get around to reading. I have most of his novels on my shelf, and hopefully these stories will kickstart my exploration of his work.

And finally, this one is a bit of an oddity for me - Tom McCarthy's Tintin and the Secret of Literature. I've never read a Tintin cartoon before, but I have read and loved all three of McCarthy's novels - Remainder, Men in Space and his latest C. When I read a review that suggested C was inspired by McCarthy's interest in Tintin, well mine was also piqued. Since these cartoons first appeared in 1929, they are clearly a part of the cultural history of the time and I'm curious to read all about them.
This should keep me occupied for at least a semester.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Summering Up. . .

I'm back. It's been a hot, muggy summer (never my favourite season), and I've spent a good chunk of it lying lazily on my couch, under the ceiling fan, watching DVDS in the dark. Too sluggish to blog, I'm afraid, although I've also been busy with all the various festivals in and around the city. Highlight of the Toronto Jazz Festival was seeing the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the master just as nimble on the keys as ever - at nearly ninety! Best production at the Shaw Festival this summer was Shaw's own The Doctor's Dilemma, though I also very much enjoyed their production of Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus, even though the lead was miscast. Lots of great cabaret at the Toronto Fringe Festival this year too which was a terrific addition to their usual fare.

And this summer was the last season of Cinematheque at its old location before moving next month to the Bell Lightbox with its much higher movie prices and new policy of letting food into the theatres (which means the talking and cell phones and texting will follow, alas). It's the end of an era and I'll miss the old place, the regulars and the reverence the audience had for the films themselves. I feel it will all change now into something resembling your average noisy multi-plex. I'm rather pissed that there are now two membership tiers (you have to make a $300 donation in order to get the usual $6.00 member price for films; my second tier membership - which has doubled in price - now gives me the privilege of buying tickets at $9.00 a pop!). I certainly won't be going there 3-5 times a week any more, which I'll really miss, but prices and principles will prevail.

This summer, the unexpected surprise was the Akira Kurosawa retrospective. I had never seen a film of his before, thinking they were all about samurai, but having now seen 18 of his movies, I'm in awe of his scope of subject matter and the longevity of his career. My favourites were two of his stylish gangster movies - 1949's Stray Dog and 1960's The Bad Sleep Well; the latter has been called his "Hamlet", and while there isn't a play "to catch the conscience of the King" there's certainly an unforgettable cake! I'll also be buying Criterion's Eclipse set of Post-war Kurosawa Films, all of which I saw this summer - and want to rewatch - for their interesting insights into a Japanese society trying to recover after the war. The set features his version of Dostovesky's The Idiot which I read in preparation for the film and found to be a fascinating adaption, true to the spirit and rough plot of the novel but rather scary and intense in its striking but violent imagery. I saw his famous movie Ran as well, but as much as I admired it, I think I prefer the earlier black and white films, although a later movie - 1975's Dersu Uzala - was so heartbreakingly beautiful and touching, I'm not sure if it wasn't my favourite after all.

My summer reading has been modest, given that turning on a lightbulb most nights has been unbearable for the extra heat it gives off. But I'm back in the groove now and my most recent reads have all been ambitious fictional looks at the turn of the 20th century. C by Tom McCarthy is an intelligent, multi-layered novel about the science behind early radio and communications networks and contains a wonderful chapter describing the aerial aspects of the First World War. Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat is my first venture into contemporary steampunk, but I loved this political adventure story set in the utopian city of New Venice, complete with suffragettes, wicked magicians, mysterious dreams, a Polar Kangaroo and even the odd zombie. It was like an adult version of Philip Pullman with lots of clever word play and northern lore. And this weekend I started a wonderful novel about the inevitable changes that occur on the island of Guernsey, through two world wars and their aftermath. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards is a touching and very funny tale narrated by an elderly, lonely and opinionated man, nostalgic for a way of life that has disappeared with the advent of tourists and television on his beloved island. It's the perfect book to end the summer with.

Friday, 21 May 2010

What's In A Name?. . .

I finally got around to checking out this cool, secondhand scholarly bookstore that opened up last month just blocks away from the University of Toronto campus. It does have a name that's hard to remember - Of Swallows, Their Deeds and The Winter Below, which partially explains the delay. I'd seen a newspaper article announcing its opening and made a mental note, but then promptly forgot the name. Then it was featured in the latest issue of Toronto Life magazine as one of the "50 Reasons to Love Toronto Now". So I jotted down the address and popped over there with a friend this afternoon. It's located on the second floor of a nondescript building. The walls are painted dark grey and one's eyes are immediately drawn to a striking red velvet couch against one wall. The books are still being unpacked but there were enough on the shelves to warrant a good browse. Literary criticism, philosophy, film, classics and religion seem to be the main categories of focus. And yes, of course I couldn't resist picking up these two books:

I was born in Hull but left when I was still a baby and almost anything you read about the city has to do with Philip Larkin which is just fine with me as I quite like his poetry. Philip Larkin, The Marvell Press and Me by Jean Hartley promises not only to detail Larkin's early years in Hull and his relationship with a small press (I always love reading publishing memoirs) but also to describe the Hull of the 1950s and 1960s which hopefully will give me a sense of what my birthplace was like just prior to my arrival. Plus I was completely drawn to the cover - it's a photo of Larkin in front of a new library site in 1958. As to the second book, I have a number of titles in The German Library Series, mostly collections by German playwrights, but I was enticed to buy this anthology because it contains an excerpt from After Midnight by Irmgard Keun. I've read and enjoyed The Artificial Silk Girl and Child of All Nations and want more! There are also pieces by other German writers I'm interested in, including Ernst Junger and Gregor Von Rezzori.

With university bookstores carrying fewer books and certainly not offering the range from university presses that they used to - preferring to concentrate on t-shirts and electronics instead - it's really exciting to have this new used bookstore in the city. There's a good interview with the proprietor Jason Rovito in NOW Magazine which you can read here. I really like his philosophy - that a bookshop should be the centre of an academic community. Absolutely! But it takes skilled staff who actually love books, do the research needed to buy and stock intelligently, and who can foster good working relationships with faculty and students. As Rovito says in the NOW article, “Our gamble was that there was something that can’t be translated into electronic space in terms of bookselling. There’s a physical component that’s essential to the act. Part of that is the book itself as an actual object[...]but also talking about books, and the act of writing itself.”

"Just call it 283 College St, " said Rovito as I was leaving with my purchases, after having commented on the long name. I wish him luck and hope he can make a go of it - I'll certainly be returning.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A Total Eclipse of the Heart. . .

I admit to being totally addicted to Criterion DVDs much to the dismay of my pocketbook. Which is why I love their Eclipse Series so much - these are very resonably priced sets of films organized around a similar theme or director. They don't have all the extras in terms of interviews or commentary that the regular Criterions do, but the films have been restored and are a joy to watch. I own several of these - The Lubitsch Musicals is my favourite. If you've never seen Maurice Chevalier charming his way through either The Love Parade (1929) or The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), you are really missing a treat. I just bought George Bernard Shaw on Film which consists of 1941's Major Barbara starring the imperious Wendy Hiller, 1945's Caesar and Cleopatra starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh (which I've never seen and I'm a huge Vivien Leigh fan!) and 1952's Androcles and the Lion.

But browsing the Criterion site today, I was excited to see that Eclipse will be releasing Presenting Sacha Guitry, a series of four French films released in the 1930s. I've never even heard of this actor/writer/director but the description of him as a "Gallic counterpart to Noel Coward" has me immediately sold. How can one resist this description of The Pearls of the Crown:

Sacha Guitry plays four roles in this multilingual whirlwind of pageantry that investigates the fate of three pearls missing from the royal crown of England. Pearls rockets through four centuries of European history with imaginative, winking irreverence.
Can't wait but will have to. The set isn't out until July.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


This amazing movie is finally available on DVD. The New York Times did a review of the package and lauds the restoration of the film and the deep colours it now has. Oh, how can anyone forget that wonderful scene of Hepburn and Bogart trying to push that boat through the swamp. Can't wait to watch it again.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Falling Under The Spell of the Kreutzer Sonata. . .

Last week, I had two very different experiences of watching dance - both events choreographed by famed Canadian James Kudelka. The first was the National Ballet of Canada's production of Swan Lake. I was sitting way up in the nosebleed section of Ring 5 but still marvelled at the gorgeous costumes, dark, theatrical sets, and of course the wonderful dancing. The one good thing about sitting high up is you can really appreciate the choreography in terms of the visual patterns made by the dancers and their costumes. It's almost akin to being the camera in a Busby Berkeley musical.

A few nights later I was in the fifth row at a much smaller theater watching the Art of Time Ensemble's innovative production of the Kreutzer Sonata. This was a terrific night. The first half was devoted to Tolstoy's story about a jealous husband, adapted into an hour long monologue, ably delivered by Ted Dykstra while pianist Andrew Burasko and violinist Marie Benard beautifully played selections of Beethoven's work. After the intermission, we were able to hear the entire sonata while watching Kudelka's work 15 Heterosexual Duets, danced by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. Oh, how I loved it! The choreography was so fast, inventive, playful, humourous, romantic and passionate. All aspects of relationships were conveyed from lust to petulant spats to apathetic boredom. And being so close to the stage, you could really see the power in the lifts and jumps, and the expressions on the dancers. I could have watched this sequence a dozen times in a row.
It was wonderful to hear the music as well, although I equally love listening to Leoš Janáček's version, which I also first encountered in a multi-cultural event. This was a few years ago when I was in London and went to see a production of Brian Friel's play Performances which combined a story about Janáček's passionate epistolary correspondence with a married woman, and the music it inspired - a string quartet entitled "Intimate Letters". I can't remember now who played Janáček but the woman was played by the gorgeous Rosamund Pike (wasn't she just wonderful in the film An Education?) The Brodsky Quartet performed the music onstage and I bought a CD of it in the lobby which also contained Janáček's The Kreutzer Sonata. I highly recommend it - it's really beautiful music.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Some Books I'm Lusting After. . .

Ah, this beautiful spring weather we're having - I'm just aching to wander the streets of Toronto, go out and buy books, and find a park bench in the sunlight. Here are some recent ones I've earmarked as must-reads.

The Letters of Sylvia Beach edited by Keri Walsh
Bookseller extraordinaire, founder of Shakespeare & Company - how can I resist? Plus, if you can't get to Paris. . .

A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War by David Boyd Haycock
I'm a fan of all of the artists profiled in this book - Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, CRW Nevinson, Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer - and have read bits of each of their lives. This collective biography sounds fascinating. Many thanks to Hannah Stoneham and her blog review for alerting me to this book.

I love book history and this tracing of the popularity of Austen's work over the last two centuries has gotten very good reviews. Certainly is my kind of book.

Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury Volume 1: Aesthetic Theory and Literary Practice
Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury Volume 2: International Influence and Politics
Edited by Gina Potts and Lisa Shahriari
News of this new anthology of scholarly essays went out on the Woolf listserv and the two volumes look terrific but I will probably have to wait until they come out in paperback before adding them to the Woolf shelf - bit pricey in hardcover.

What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy
A new collection of short stories from one of my favourite contempory writers. I love her edgy prose, always on the knife-edge between despair, danger and delight.
A Short History of Cahiers du Cinema by Emilie Bickerton
I subscribe to this magazine to improve my French even though I know it's not as cutting edge as it used to be. Which is why I want to read this book.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Yet another reason why independents rock!

Just love this post from Conversational Reading about a great event hosted by San Francisco's The Booksmith that combines a bookswap with a meet and greet and three hours of bookish talk!
I would love to see a proliferation of literary salons springing up in bookstores everywhere - as much as I love to read blogs, nothing beats face to face literary chat with passionate readers.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Billy Bishop Goes to War Again. . .

I went to see Soulpepper's production of Billy Bishop Goes To War last week. It's incredible that the two creators and performers - Eric Peterson and John Gray - have been reviving this play over the last few decades ever since it was first written in 1978. You can see Peterson at the top in the first production which graces the jacket of the published play and below it, a photo from Soulpepper's current production. I saw a performance in 1998 at Canstage and was delighted to see it again. Told through a series of reminiscences interspersed with original songs, this is the story of Canada's WWI flying ace Billy Bishop, who rather bumbled his way into becoming one of the most successful fighter pilots of the war, shooting down 72 planes, winning the Victoria Cross and against all odds - actually surviving the war, dying in his sleep at the age of 62. You can see a snippet of the play from this trailer.

Peterson is just marvellous as Bishop (and all the characters he encounters from ignorant upper class twits in the War Office, to saucy French chanteuses). Unfortunately he had to stop the play about ten minutes in to ask a patron to stop texting as the blue light from his cell phone was distracting him. I can never understand the complete disrespect of people who forget to turn their cell phones off, or in this case, deliberately text while a performance is in progress - why on earth do they bother showing up at all? Peterson handled the disruption with class. "The one good thing about the First World War," he said to the audience, "is there were no cell phones!"

With the centenary of WWI just a few years away, I fully expect (hopefully) a number of WWI plays to be revived in theatre companies both big and small. I have my fingers crossed that someone - maybe the Shaw Festival? - will mount Sean O'Casey's The Silver Tassie. Or bring back their marvellous production of Journey's End that they did a few years ago. Might I finally get to see Noel Coward's Post-Mortem? In the meanwhile, Soulpepper is getting a jumpstart. Billy Bishop Goes to War is the perfect segue into their next production, a revival of the 1963 satirical musical Oh What a Lovely War. Oh, yes, I have tickets already.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The struggling independents. . .

If you ever visit Chicago, a trip to the Seminary Co-op Bookstore near the University of Chicago is a must. You can seriously and deliriously get lost in its labyrinth-like underground corridors of books. (You can see some photos at this blog post). They also have a terrific website with its Front Table feature that replicates a physical display of new books and staff picks (you click on the thumbnail of the book and you can read more about it) and they are always posting interesting staff reviews and interviews. And in this day and age when so many university bookstores have reduced their trade sections in favour of installing cell-phone outlets and expanding their t-shirt lines, I use their website as a major source of information on new books published by university presses. In short it's everything an independent bookstore should be - a browsing paradise for its local community with knowledgeable staff , and savvy enough to reach out to booklovers on the internet (it's been years since I've visited - I used to go as a bookseller when Book Expo America was held in the city).

But like all independents they are feeling the financial pinch in the wake of competition from amazon (whose latest hijinks in removing Macmillan books from their site over a battle with e-book pricing has made me boycott them forever - I don't care that they later changed their mind), and now threats from google. Jeff Waxman a bookseller at the Seminary Co-op, posts a thoughtful piece at the Three Percent blog - essential reading for all of us who love the culture of independent bookstores. Read it here. And buy locally and support your independents!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Tech-time. . .

Yep - I want one! My current MAC notebook is about six years old and is needs to be replaced soon and I think it will be with this new iPad which seems to do everything I currently use my computer for - at a much lesser price. It'll be great for travelling and looks to be small and light enough to lug around in my rather large purse. While I probably won't use it much as an e-reader (except on planes), I think the screen is large enough to watch movies and TV comfortably. I also really like the fact that the keyboard/stand is also apparently a charger as well. Now we'll just have to wait and see how long it will take for them to be sold in Canada.

Monday, 25 January 2010

A "Tessering" Type of Weekend. . .

Yes, I just finished reading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time which I enjoyed very much though it was far darker than I expected, and while I wasn't jumping from planet to planet this weekend, it did feel like I was crossing a lot of cultural borders and travelling back and forth between various books. I got a surprising amount of things accomplished and yet none of it felt rushed. I have a new "slow" strategy for Saturdays and Sundays in which I continue to wake up at 6am as I do on weekdays, but instead of hitting the shower right away, I make a cup of tea, crawl back into bed and read for four hours - purely pleasure reading; whatever takes my fancy. Then I'm up officially at 10am and the whole day still stretches in front of me. Reading children's literature is a particularly delightful way to start a weekend.

But I was also feeling a bit scholarly so I started dipping into a recent anthology that I've acquired - The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry edited by Tim Kendall. I read the essays dealing with women's war poetry, containing some of the usual blather about how women's poetry has been ignored in the canon because most of it wasn't very good and the genre is masculinely predicated on having actually fought at the front etc. etc. Simon Featherstone's essay on Gertrude Stein and Mina Loy was interesting in its argument for expanding the definition of war poetry to include "an exploratory aesthetics and politics that develop through unexpected, often understated experiences of wartime change." And a footnote in Stacy Gillis's overview essay led me scrambling to my WWI bookcase to dig out The Literature of the Great War Reconsidered: Beyond Modern Memory, edited by Patrick J. Quinn and Steven Trout. This is another anthology of interesting essays and Deborah Tyler-Bennett's look at women poets who used myths or folktales to critique the impact of war had me foraging for my Collected Poems 1912-1944 of H.D. (I really need to organize my bookcases) and making a note to find and read Edith Sitwell's poem "Clown's Houses" and the poetry of Iris Tree (who I know primarily as a subject in paintings by Bloomsberries) and Phyliss M'egroz (never previously heard of her). Hours worth of other interesting essays in both anthologies to read, so I'm keeping them at the ready on the bedside table.
I have to thank George at Great War Fiction for this post on Patrick Hamilton's Gorse Trilogy which contains a character who is a WWI poet. This led me to the previously unknown Black Spring Press, which not only publishes the trilogy, but also the works of Julian Maclaren-Ross, a writer I've been interested in since I read he was the inspiration for the writer X Trapnel, in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, one of my favourite books. In addition to ordering the Hamilton, I also bought a copy of Maclaren-Ross's Bitten By the Tarantula and Other Writing which includes short stories, some novellas and unpublished work, and a bunch of literary and film criticism. My books arrived at the post office on Friday night and I read his film essays, including one on the early films of Hitchcock - it has me itching to watch Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt. From the introduction to this collection, I also learned that Maclaren-Ross married a niece of Leonard Woolf. All roads apparently lead to Bloomsbury . . .
My evenings have been spent at Cinematheque Ontario which is running its Best of the Decade series. I saw three very beautiful films by Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke (Platform, Still Life and The World) and he was actually there in person to introduce them which was a treat. Then today it was a 1954 Italian melodrama, Senso directed by Luchino Visconti followed by Silent Light, directed by Carlos Reygadas, a Mexico/France/Netherland/Germany co-production which was also of interest since it starred Canadian writer Miriam Toews.
Whew. That's enough travelling for the moment. At least I didn't have to pass through "The Black Thing" - just a bit of rain.

Monday, 11 January 2010

On starting a new decade and NOT making New Year's Reading Resolutions. . .

A new year, a new decade. I can't help but look back to the beginning of the "oughts" and think about how bookselling and the industry has changed over the last ten years. Back in 2000 I was working in an independent bookstore and we'd survived the arrival of the chains (the bookstore still exists but is sadly so unrecognizable to me now that I can barely bring myself to visit; it certainly doesn't have the focus on books that it used to and very few of my former colleagues still work there). Online selling and e-books are gaining greater market share; publishers are looking towards embedding books or e-texts with all sorts of multi-media videos etc; and independent bookstores are still in trouble and closing. What's the future for them? I think it can only lie in becoming really specialized or being a boutique type of bookstore with a very dedicated, knowledgeable staff. Pages on Queen St. in Toronto which closed last year due to high rents, was such a store. Even though it carried a wide variety of books, it was the go-to store for small press, cultural studies, art books, graphic novels and small artsy magazines. I loved browsing there - I was always stumbling on something interesting that no other bookstore had. Cinematheque Ontario will be opening their new Bell Light centre next year - it will have more theatres and be the hub of the Toronto Film Festival. I'm sure there will be a cafe in the building but wouldn't it be awesome if there was also a bookstore that not only focused on film books, but had a terrific fiction section featuring international literature to complement their year-long programs of international films? They could also use the theatres for author events or lectures on literature.

The last decade saw the rise of blogging and a great way of quickly reading international book news and connecting with like-minded readers. Only now there are so many millions of blogs out there with each one leading to another and another. It's so overwhelming and time-consuming, not only to read them, but to blog oneself, as rewarding as the process can be. I've certainly cut down - I still have my favourites, but I don't check them daily anymore, preferring to have catch-up days and limit my online reading time.

I'm embracing SLOW this decade. Slow reading. Slow blogging (no pressure, just when I have the time and inclination). Slow cooking - trying to eat more organic, cut down on the red meat and use my slow cooker more often. Slow weekending - it's okay to take afternoon naps and leave some of the chores until later. I need to get out and walk more - without necessarily any destination.

I was a bit too ambitious last year with reading challenges and while I really enjoyed most of what I read, I kept compiling unreasonable lists and making crazy promises, and then not following up on them, and feeling bad about it and the whole thing just became an unending cycle . . .

So nothing too specific this year. In general terms, I'd like to read more poetry (and try to memorize some of it) and art books (I have a pile of artist biographies and books on various art movements - I need to do more than just look at the pretty pictures). I always like to tackle one of the really huge, monumental classics and this year it will be Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (I've already finished Part One and am really enjoying it so far, so this at least seems entirely possible).

I'm also inspired by Susan Hill's latest book, Howard's End Is On the Landing which I picked up after a flurry of blog recommendations. She decided to take a year away from the Internet, blogging, and from buying new books, to concentrate on re-reading the many books already on her shelves. An excellent idea and I'm going to extend it to my DVD watching as well - goodness knows I own enough films, both those I haven't even watched along with many that I would like to see again.

And I desperately need to declutter this year. Clothes, books, DVDs, endless piles of paper that need to be filed or shredded. So these are my mantras: Slow down. Breathe. Turn the computer off. Walk. Bicycle. Live in the moment. Have face to face conversations with real friends, not electronic ones. Keep going to the theatre. Read slowly and think. Re-read. And repeat.